House Bill 1369 and Senate Bill 2606, currently before the Mississippi legislature, would give local government entities the option to publish their public notices on free, government-maintained websites rather than in local newspapers.
We believe this effort is, at best, misguided.
First, broadband internet access and use remains low in rural areas like ours, where a full 22% of the population does not use the internet. Newspapers put this information right at the fingertips of those who need to be aware – the citizens affected. The likelihood of most people searching multiple online sites to see if there might be a public notice affecting them are slim. But when local newspaper readers turn the page and see one staring them right in the face, they are more likely to take in the information.
This prevents public issues from going unnoticed by the citizenry, and serves as a definitive record of information having been published to the public.
The funds spent on public notice advertising — which keeps government accountable to the citizens — is relatively minor compared to other governmental expenses.
Public legal notice rates are set by statute at 12 cents per word; 10 per word on subsequent insertions. Most government entities are probably spending more on office supplies and travel than they are on placing required public notices in local newspapers.
If these local agencies were to set up individual systems for posting notices, the costs of office space, computers, software, staff would cost more and take funds from imperative functions to replicate something already being done better elsewhere.
We are certainly not averse to having these notices posted online for easy search in addition to publishing them on print. As a matter of fact, we’re already doing it.
The vast majority of local newspapers in Mississippi — including The Star-Herald — post all published public legal notices on a free-to-the-public website at no additional charge to the agencies. You can go to http://www.mspublicnotices.org to search them at any time.
And yes, publishing these public legal notices generates some revenue for The Star-Herald, but it is revenue we give right back to the communities we serve by providing coverage of all the important news that matters most to our readers.
We urge state legislators to keep public legal notices exactly where they are now — right in front of the citizens they affect most in the most cost-effective way available.